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Tips & Tricks

Styling & Makeup Pieces Every Photographer Should Carry That Make You A Client’s Hero

By Kishore Sawh on January 24th 2016

Many of the readership of SLR Lounge and elsewhere, is made up of those who associate primarily as wedding photographers or portrait photographers. Association is fine, and definition in a marketplace is a good thing, because when you know what you are, other people will too. However, if you are one of the above, I think it would suit you well to seriously seek education in fashion and beauty, and the reason should be rather obvious; your work is people-centric, and beauty and fashion photographers specialize in making people look their utmost best.

You may be thinking, “Ah ha, you may be entitled to your argument, but you’re not entitled to win it. There’s a trend over the past few years to go more natural, so I don’t need to scour the depths of the beauty world for what I do.” Fair enough, but if you take away anything from this writing, take this: It often takes a lot of work to make it look like it took none.


I stand by that, but you probably inherently know this. If you’ve ever shot an engagement session, you are all too familiar with the amount of planning, understanding, and tactics required and employed to make that session look as ‘natural’ as breathing. It’s the parts that no one else sees, the intangibles that make the difference. So while natural is the trend, and I like that, understand that it can actually be harder to achieve the natural look and look good, than to create poreless, flawless, alabaster skin and so on. There are certain tricks-of-the-trade that all photographers would do well to know, and I’ll share some here.

The Purpose

Most clients – from brides, brides-to-be, models, model agents for whom you’re shooting tests, anyone – want to look their best but look like themselves. Essentially, you want to draw out of them the individual and be able to show them the best version of themselves, not a version that masks them. If you can do that, if you can photograph someone to look not as some altered representation but instead as their best-represented self, it’s extremely powerful. One massive piece of advice I can give you here is to do as much as possible outside of post.

Something like contouring, for example, is much debated whether to do more in post or not. I generally prefer to do this on the subject via make-up and lighting because an issue you’ll run into in post is the problem of continuity. It can be difficult to get the right balance of all lines and shadows in all images, and doing it in real just goes a long way to help.

*Note For Women: About contouring, beware of doing it in real, especially for agency tests because they’ll know when it’s too much and when it’s not real – if you don’t have cheekbones like Olivier Rousteing, don’t try to ‘build’ them with contouring – it doesn’t work.


So if you accept doing as much as possible in post, what can you do? Well, if you have an MUA worth their foundation they’ll do well, but even they need direction. However, most people for most shoots aren’t going to have an MUA at hand, and that provides you a chance to be the hero. You should understand something, that when trying to get the best out of the subject, they must trust in your ability, and you can do that through certain credibility factors. If you’re shooting beautiful people all the time (or your name is Avedon or Weber), then that fame is your credibility factor right there, but if not, the ability to teach the client something, and show them little tricks that highlight you understand them, is huge.

I’ve found that being in tune with a few key makeup and styling methods goes a long way – especially being a man. Having family who were models and growing up in some of that atmosphere, some knowledge has transpired through osmosis and here are points to consider with the products that correlate.

Kill Oil & Tone DoWN Hotspots With Mattifying Gel

Oily isn’t dewy; there’s a difference, and no one wants to look oily. Living in Miami, this is more of a problem due to the heat, and countless times have I come to the aid of a subject by having some kind of topical mattifying gel to combat an oily forehead, bridge or nose or nostrils, whatever. It’s incredibly simple and the subject is grateful, but it also helps you later on in post. With lots of shine, especially in certain spots, comes the likelihood of having blown out hotspots, especially when in the sun or using strobes. Keep a bottle of Peter Thomas Roth Mattifying Gel with you at all times. It takes a tiny amount to cover a lot, can be used under or over makeup.

Retain Texture With Lipstick (As Blush)


That’s right, not for lips. I’m not a fan of powdered makeup since most of them tend to reflect a lot, but otherwise, they just don’t look natural. Powdered blush is some of the worst if you’re going for a natural look, so instead, get a regular stick of lipstick and draw some on the cheeks and have the subject rub it in where they normally would a blush. It mimics the texture of the skin, so in post, you actually have texture to work with also, which is great, and it just looks so much better. I know coral lipsticks are extremely popular but go for one that either a redder coral or just a red. Model Emily Ratajkowski is known for this, though it’s an old trick.

Define Bone Structure with Eyebrow Gel

For around $8, you can pick up some brow gel from your local drug store, and it’ll be some of the best money you can spend for your subjects. Eyebrows are so often overlooked but treated right they can really bring a face together. They lend a lot to the length and width of a face, and thus altering them can affect either dimension greatly. Generally, people want to elongate their face and not broaden it, and one way to achieve that with make-up is to have the eyebrows groomed a little upwards and organized. Take the brow gel, push off the excess, brush upwards and it makes the hairs congruent and keeps them in place. 

As a bonus, if your subject has any stray hairs on their head or you want to alter their hair a little, this can certainly be used for taming it. If you have some mascara or something, or your subject does as most women do, it’s also useful for filling in eyebrows better than pencil.

Bring Out The Eyes And Jaw-LIne With Concealer, Not Eyeshadow

I’m not suggesting that the two are mutually exclusive, just that eyes, as I referenced in a recent post, will make the biggest difference to your look. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model and Victoria’s Secret Angel Daniela Pestova has gone on record saying that if she had to keep one piece of make-up, it’s something to take care of under the eyes since it really can transform faces. Not only does it make the face look more youthful but longer.

I mention jaw-line because it’s an often overlooked part of the face for make-up, but somewhere we focus on a lot during post retouching. Celebrity and VS makeup artist Jenna Anton has also stated that when looking to even out the skin tone, you want to match to the jawline area. Having it be consistent with under the eyes also, makes the whole face look a lot more consistent saving post editing time. I don’t keep concealer with me just because I don’t know what the skin tones will always be just like, but just tell your subject to bring some – even for the men.


Dry Shampoo and Eucerin Aquaphor. Dry shampoo is great for toning down oil in hair, and giving hair manageable volume and style. I suggest actually getting dry shampoo and not using Baby Powder since it has talc which is a carcinogen. Aquaphor is something I grew up with always in the house, and I use it on my hands and face since I travel a lot and airplanes dry out your skin. For your subjects, it’s just good to keep if you want to add a dewy look to their lips or skin. Not essential.



The purpose of this article wasn’t to give you a major primer on primers or makeup, but to have little tricks up your sleeve that really can help out on a shoot, especially if you don’t have an on-set or on location MUA. Knowing this stuff always brings a few laughs since I’m a guy, but it tends to get subjects trusting my opinion. When they see you pay attention to the details, they believe you won’t make a fool out of them. If your subject is a woman, I’ve often found they don’t know all this either, so they are impressed.

The last word of caution is, do not, without expressly asking first and knowing the comfort zone of your subject, touch them. People are very guarded about their faces especially, but don’t do it unless you ask and they are okay with it. Generally, it’s best to direct them.

If you like this kind of stuff, seeing the behind the scenes, the little tricks that can make a shoot and resultant shoot better, you may like our Natural Light Couples Photography Workshop.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Marlon Richardson

    Excellent article all very useful points

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  2. Randy Frum

    Thanks Kishore for this article. I am always looking for little gems like this. One question that I do have for you is in regards to sanitation. I have often thought of bringing translucent powder with me on summer shoots as I’ve heard it helps to keep down specular highlights when you have subjects that are sweating. But my wife (who is a nurse) has said to me that she would never want to use something that anyone else has ever used. One thought was just to by one use pads and change them out for each client that uses it… but I’m still not sure it would make the client happy unless I had a totally single use product (which could get expensive). Just wondering if this is something that you have thought about and how you might handle it…. Thanks again!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Randy, it’s certainly something I think about, especially being someone who is a bit of a sanitary obsessive. I think the issue with the powder is it would likely require the application with a pad, in which case I see the resistance your wife has. I don’t use that kind of stuff, and with the aquaphor, and mattifying gel, they come in tubes or little bottles meaning you can squeeze some out onto a fresh applicator (I use q-tips often, or little foam pads). It’s good to keep those with you and they aren’t expensive. Re-the lipstick, the foam works for that too.

      I should interject here that how you appear, how you handle yourself play big roles here. If you look sloppy and unclean why should anyone want what you’ve got. So keeping yourself looking very clean is key. keep nails short and clean, hands clean generally, clothing as well… it all matters. If they see you make an effort for hygiene everyone is better off. And putting for that effort is autotelic anyway.

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  3. Herm Tjioe

    Yeah, this area is a big void of my knowledge base. Quite often I won’t have the luxury of hiring an MUA mostly because of client’s time constraints. These little tidbits are very helpful.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to learn more about, and I’ll share what I know.

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  4. Peter Nord

    Even the American Cancer Society’s web site does not say: “Baby Powder since it has talc which is a carcinogen.” Probably shouldn’t be said here either.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I can’t sit here and debate what’s healthy and what’s not Peter. Do as you wish, I just go with the least conflicted option for clients.

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    • Peter Nord

      If health advice is given on a photo site, at least there should be a reference to some health authority which supports the claim.

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    • Chad DiBlasio

      The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies talc-based body powders as possibly carcinogenic to humans. – Thanks Google :)
      Not a raging debate Peter, it’s not what the article is about and he didn’t say keep it away from clients, just a word of suggestion! Hope that little suggestion didn’t keep you from missing the killer advice in this article! I get SO many people telling me “you’re so much more than our photographer” b/c of fashion advice, helping them with clothing issues, makeup and even helping them relax with personality and jokes. Great stuff Kishore!

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Cheers man

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  5. Ben Perrin

    These articles need a like button. Great article Kishore! This is something I know very little about although I think would add a huge benefit. This video almost needs a video though for the complete novices such as myself. I’ll bookmark this and make sure that I can view it later. Thanks again.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Thank you for the kind words Ben. I guess there could be some video tutorial for this. Maybe I’ll get round to that and convince a friend to help me out… But honestly, not much to it. I generally advocate watching some makeup videos though, as i feel it helps see retouching differently.

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  6. John Cavan

    Heh, I foresee a sudden rush of very confused looking photographers standing in the midst of the makeup aisle at their local drugstore… ;)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Probably some truth to that. Really there’s not much to it though, and asking for help at the counter makes it a breeze. In fact they sometimes ask what it’s for, and when they hear for photo work there’s often genuine interest.

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